Toulouse came from 11 points behind in the final 10 minutes to defeat Clermont Auvergne 47-44 in a superb game and extend their lead at the Top 14 summit.
Clermont may have named a slightly weakened side in preparation for their Challenge Cup semi-final against Harlequins and they held a 16-13 advantage just shy of the interval through Damian Penaud’s try and three Greig Laidlaw penalties.
Les Rouge et Noir also have a European last-four encounter to look forward to, with them set to play Leinster in Dublin, but they went in fully loaded and appeared to have taken control in the second half.
Sofiane Guitoune had touched down in the opening period before Cheslin Kolbe and Richie Gray followed him for a 33-23 advantage, but Penaud completed his hat-trick, while Auvergne were also awarded a penalty try, for a seemingly comfortable lead.
That should have sealed the victory but Ugo Mola’s men hit back and won the game through Romain Ntamack and Guitoune efforts.
It was a game befitting of two sides at the top of the table as the teams went toe-to-toe in a wonderful encounter. Thomas Ramos and Laidlaw traded early three-pointers before an excellent move, which saw Yoann Huget and Antoine Dupont combine, sent Guitoune across the whitewash.
The respective kickers then took over as Laidlaw reduced the arrears to one point before Ramos made sure Toulouse held a 13-9 advantage going into the latter stages of the first half.
Les Jaunards were creating opportunities, however, and produced a slick move as Setariki Tuicuvu passed for Penaud to touch down for the first of his three tries.
Ramos then levelled matters at the interval before the hosts went ahead once again as Kolbe scampered across the whitewash, but Pcceli Yato immediately responded for Clermont.
It was a topsy-turvy affair and, following another successful Ramos effort off the tee, Gray powered over the line for a 33-23 advantage.
At that point, Auvergne could have folded but they responded superbly and produced a stunning passage of play. Penaud went over twice in quick succession before they were awarded a penalty try following an awful challenge by Joe Tekori.
Player welfare certainly wasn’t at the forefront of referee Romain Poite’s mind, who decided to yellow card the lock, despite the second-row’s shoulder clearly connecting with Yohan Beheregaray’s head.
Absolutely horrible collision on the line, one of the worst I’ve seen and they’ve replayed it about 15 times. Clermont hooker in real difficulty Tekori absolutely blessed to get a yellow card. Makes a mockery of the whole focus on head injuries. Terrible decision by Romain Poite
— Rúaidhrí O’Connor (@RuaidhriOC) April 14, 2019
Beheregaray duly left the field in a neck brace and, with both hookers out of action, the visitors proceeded to struggle at the lineout.
Toulouse benefited, pressurising the opposition defence and scoring twice late on through Ntamack and Guitoune. It snatched the win in a thrilling game but it was ultimately soured by that late incident, with Tekori now potentially available for the Champions Cup semi-final against Leinster.
In the earlier match, Montpellier’s play-off hopes were dealt a blow after Racing 92 edged a tight contest 26-25. It was close all the way through, with the hosts taking a 13-12 advantage into the interval via Baptiste Chouzenoux’s try and a brace of Maxime Machenaud penalties.
Vern Cotter’s men responded through Benoit Paillaugue and Jan Serfontein efforts before the scrum-half appeared to have won it in the second period. That Paillaugue try moved them 25-19 in front, but there was one last sting in the tail when Henry Chavancy went over with three minutes remaining to snatch the win.
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